In my music collection I have collections of the top 100 songs from the Billboard charts for almost every year between 1970 and 1990. This past week at work I've been listening to some of the material from the early eighties and I've noticed that as the decade progressed there was a homogenization of sorts of the music being played on the radio. In the early eighties radio stations played much more eclectic mixes of material the same station that would play material by AC/DC and Billy Squier would also play material by Kenny Rogers, Eddie Rabbit, & Juice Newton. As the decade progressed the variety of material regressed.
When I was young the TV offerings were substantially more limited. There were the 3 major US networks, 2 stations out of Manhattan 300 miles to the south (WPIX and WWOR), and 3 Canadian stations due to our proximity to the Canadian border (CBC, CTV, & CJOH). Oh, and if you had a special box, there was HBO on channel 6.
Because of limited options on television and the variety of radio we were tied together considerably more by a certain commonality of experience. We may have had political differences but our neighbor down the street couldn't have been too bad a fellow because he caught last night's episode of M*A*S*H* and enjoyed it as well. That's something we could talk about-- a shared experience of enjoyment. Nevermind what his political beliefs were because the subject of politics rarely came up.
It's a lot harder to demonize those with which you disagree politically if you share some similarities and some life experiences, watch some of the same TV shows, listen to some of the same music.
Fast forward to the present. We have hundreds of cable channels, radio stations are heavily programmed to play only certain "genres" of music, advertising is growing more specifically targeted to certain demographic groups rather than the population as a whole. As a culture this is causing the trend of getting us as individuals to focus more on our differences than our similarities and in so doing is causing increasing divisiveness.
Our similiarities with one another are blurring and our differences are coming into sharp focus. The art of compromise is being forgotten as we see increasingly less in common with one another due to our decreasing level of shared common experiences.
When you add to that the increased reliance on technology; our cell phones, laptops, iPods, etc.; they insulate us from one another. It's considerably easier to call someone names or insult that person when you think of that person as a name on a screen as opposed to a living breathing human being. It's easier to cast insults at those you disagree with when you don't have to view the reprecussions of your actions. When you don't see the effect your words have on the person your words are directed at.
Between the pigeonholing and insulation of our culture, we've stopped seeing one another as fellow people and started seeing one another more and more as allies and adversaries based respectively on our shared or conflicting viewpoints. That has mushroomed into our increasingly more polarized and culturally divided nation.
I don't know the solution, I wish I did. But I'd like to think having an awareness and understanding of what is happening and why is a good first step towards finding a solution and hopefully tearing down some of the walls we've started to build between us.